Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has admitted the protest movement against dictator Alexander Lukashneko “seems to have lost” after being on the verge of toppling his regime last year.
Ms Tsikhanousakaya, who fled Belarus after apparent threats to her children amid a violent crackdown on protests in the summer, said the path to freedom and democracy would be longer and harder than many imagined.
“I have to admit that we have lost the streets. We have no way of combating the regime’s violence against protestors,” she told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps ahead of a planned visit to the country next month.
“They have the strength, they have the guns…I know Belarusians are tired, they are afraid.” Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Belarus in August after Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet nation with an iron fist for 26 years, claimed a landslide victory in a rigged election.
Police launched a brutal response, using stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas on the crowds. Several people died while many more reported being tortured in custody.
Criminal cases linked to the demonstrations are ongoing, with a pair of young journalists last week sentenced to two years in prison each after they covered police violence during an anti-government protest.
“We are building the structures for the struggles of tomorrow,” Ms Tsikhanouskaya added in the interview. “Our strategy is to organise ourselves better, to put the regime under constant pressure, until such a time when people will be ready to take to the streets again, perhaps in the spring.”
The 38 year old found herself the accidental face of the protest movement last year after her husband, a popular video blogger and opposition figure, was barred from standing against Mr Lukashenko and jailed.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya was allowed to run and galvanised the opposition with mass campaign rallies. She said she would have won the presidency had the vote been free and fair.
In exile she has continued to run an office and met with European leaders in a bid to keep up pressure on the Lukashenko regime. In an interview with the Telegraph last year she said she was “suffocated by fear” but could not betray the hopes of the Belarusian people.—Reuters